Monday, February 27, 2012

Venting My Spleen

Last month, I wrote about To Cork or Not to Cork, an interesting book about the advantages and disadvantages of using cork to seal wine bottles. 

Because of poor quality control, cork went through a bad patch in the mid-to-late 1980s, damaging the reputations of several wineries, not least in my own mind.  Although the problem of cork taint may have diminished from what is was the 1980s, it still plagues the wine industry.

One of the great challenges to quality control is that cork taint is not necessarily pervasive in a single batch of corks or in the corks used in a single case of the same wine. 

Little did I know that I would experience that variation in cork taint so soon.  Two weeks ago, I opened a bottle of Chateau Chasse-Spleen 1989, AC Moulis en Médoc (Bordeaux) that we had brought back from France many years ago.  (It still had the FFr 97,00 – about 20 bucks – sticker on it.)  In fact, we had brought back a few bottles simply because we like the name so much…and because it’s one of the most reliable producers in Médoc.

That bottle of wine was corked.  Not as bad as some, but worse that many others, say 7 on the blech scale of 1 to 10.  Bad enough to impair any good aromas.

After that one, we still had one bottle left and, expecting the worse and wanting to get it over with, I opened that one last week.

Pleasant surprise.  This bottle, bought at the same time in the same store, was delicious, without a sign of cork taint.  It still had a wonderfully complex bouquet and, although the cassis, black cherry, and plum aromas had faded, it brought forth notes of cedar, mushroom, pine, and hazelnut.

So, the lesson is that just because one bottle in a case is corked, not all bottles may be corked.  But what consumer wants to endure this experience with any bottle of wine?  What a quality control nightmare!    

On a related note, Chateau Margaux (one of the First Growth wines of Médoc) is experimenting with screwcaps for its second wine, Pavillon Rouge.  Decanter quotes Chateau Margaux’s winemaker as saying, “We’ve all been disappointed and frustrated by corked bottles. Another closure would be welcome if it is better.”  Decanter reported that, at a recent tasting organized by Chateau Margaux, a 2003 Margaux red wine sealed with an impermeable screwcap closure was preferred to the same wine sealed with a cork or a permeable screwcap, consistent with tests at the estate.  On the subject of using screwcaps, the Margaux winemaker said, “If we have consistent proof that it works better, I don’t see how we could resist.”

When the ultra-traditionalists in Bordeaux begin to turn their backs on cork in favour of screwcaps, can the well-deserved end of corks be far away?

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1 comment:

  1. Have opened several bottles lately (last 6 weeks) sealed with Diam corks. These are warranted taint-free, and are marked Diam, Diam5, Diam10. I think the numbers refer to length.
    They are a sort of agglomerate cork, with a very polished texture.
    An interesting development for the traditionalists!